Kathryn Jean Lopez interviews author of 'How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard'
“If you trade Christ for anything, whether it be success or popularity or thirty pieces of silver, you will end up miserable because nothing else can ever fulfill you,” Aurora Griffin writes in her book How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard: 40 Tips for Faithful College Students.
Griffin talks about the book — which is full of practical wisdom for millennials and beyond — and about adopting the habits and virtues of being truly Catholic amid the distractions and temptations of the world.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Do you agree with Boston College philosophy professor Peter Kreeft, writing in the introduction to your book, that How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard is simply about common sense? Even if you’re not Catholic?
Aurora Griffin: Yes and no. If you think that you can replace Christ with some other ideal or set of virtues, then yes. To the extent you invest in those, build your community around them, make responsible and intentional decisions, you will succeed.
However, in a very real way, the wisdom of Christianity rubs up against the culture and its common sense. In the culture’s eyes, praying and going to Mass might be pleasant and meditative, but it’s largely a waste of time. In the culture’s eyes, abstaining from sex outside of marriage is repressive.
I think the book is about common sense in a certain way, although it is the fact that Christianity is true that makes it so.
Flannery O’Connor once said quipped about the Eucharist: “If it’s just a symbol, I say to hell with it.” If Christianity isn’t true, then there are probably better places to look for common sense than my book.
Lopez: Is praying the Divine Office practical for busy people? Never mind for millennials with short attention spans?
Griffin: I think so! I live near a community of Dominicans now, and pray compline with them most nights. You would not believe how many young people join in. It’s just beautiful: the church is dark, the voices pray as one through the familiar Gregorian chants, and everyone thanks God for another day together.
I realize not everyone has the opportunity to chant with monks every night, but anyone can join in the universal night prayers of the Church. There are a good number of smartphone apps that one can use to flick through compline before going to bed, and then morning prayer before getting up. Of all the prayers of the Office, compline and morning prayer have been most important to me. There have been times that I’ve tried to pray all of hours, but I didn’t find that sustainable.
More directly to your question, prayer is not practical. If Christ is not who He says He is and the Church is not what She claims to be, none of it is practical, including the Office.
Lopez: What’s so important about the liturgical year? That sounds so inside-baseball church-y.
Griffin: Perhaps that’s just the phrase, because it describes something that is very accessible to the outside world. The Christmas season, though actually mapping onto Advent liturgically, is celebrated almost universally in our culture. Everyone knows when Easter happens. Then it’s just a matter, as Catholics, of looking ahead to those major events and preparing ourselves for them spiritually.
The great thing about the Catholic faith is that it goes as deep as you want it to. Living the liturgical year can be as simple as acknowledging and preparing for major holidays, or as esoteric as celebrating lesser known saints. Tapping into the Church’s calendar can be a great source of strength that draws you into something much bigger than yourself. When you live the rhythm of the Church, you have more opportunities to celebrate, grow, reflect, and of course, repent.
Lopez: What do you mean by “Just Be Catholic”?
Griffin: This was probably the chapter that underwent the most editing in the whole book. If you look at it on the surface, it can sound circular because one of the tips for “how to stay Catholic in college” is “just be Catholic.” The chapter is really about avoiding the extremes of liberalism and traditionalism. However, it was a difficult chapter to write because usually, there is a lot more danger on the liberalism side. It is a problem to be a sedevacantist, but not many people actually are. There are, however, a lot of people who think that the Church’s teachings are outdated and simply disregard them, even as they publicly claim (and sincerely consider themselves) to be Catholic. This is a problem. The point of being Catholic is following Christ through the Church that He left for us on earth. Whether criticizing Her from the right or the left, you are causing a problem if you’re not supporting the Church and Her teaching authority.